Europe just got a little bit smaller. Spanish railway operator, Renfe, has launched a new high-speed service linking the Spanish capital Madrid and France’s second city, Marseille.
Using AVE trains, which travel at 300 km/h (186mph), the new service takes less than eight hours, significantly reducing the former journey time from city centre to city centre. Stops en route are: Zaragoza, Tarragona, Barcelona, Girona, and Figueres, in Spain; then Perpignan, Narbonne, Beziers, Montpellier, Nîmes, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, and of course, Marseille.
In a promising sign of the buoyancy in demand for European train travel, and in homage to the love affair between the south of France and its Iberian neighbours, the Madrid-Marseille connection comes just two weeks after a cross-border service between Barcelona and Lyon, which shares the same stops as the Marseille line, until branching off at Nîmes, towards Valence and Lyon.
The Madrid-Marseille route operates at weekends at the current time, with departures towards Marseilles leaving Friday through Sunday, and the opposite direction served Saturday through Monday. The Barcelona – Lyon route operates during the working week. But from this fall, both services will begin daily services, with 28 weekly round-trips.
Train afficionado, the Man in Seat 61, describes Renfe as his favourite European operator and notes: “Reservation is compulsory, and all trains have a cafe-bar. AVEs are now being fitted with free WiFi. If you pay the Premium fare, an airline-style hot tray meal with wine is included although on some departures you get a snack box instead.”
Not all Spanish train users are as pleased with Renfe’s expansion as he is however. Some twitter users complained about the lack of regional trains within Spain and called for better services to the coasts.
Still, Renfe went live in the third week of June 2023 and in the first five weeks over 70,000 passengers have already purchased journeys on the two new routes. 57% of those are for the Marseille line. This is good news for Renfe, whose strategic plan includes bringing in 10% of annual income from foreign activities.
With that in mind, the operator unveiled its new holding company, ‘Renfe Proyectos Internacionales’ last week, which it intends to be a hub for consultancy, international cooperation, services and operations, rolling stock sales, and training.
Next stop: Paris. According to RailTech, Renfe will be aiming to set up a high-speed route towards the city of light in the near future.